Think problem gambling only affects adults old enough to get into casinos, or pass the age verification check on popular online gambling sites? Think again.
With the rise in mobile betting, sports gambling, and online games that thinly disguise gambling as innocent play, youth and young adults with such exposure are increasingly at risk of developing a serious gambling addiction.
According to a report by the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors, 4–5% of children ages 12–17 already struggle with a growing gambling addiction, while an additional 10–14% of youth are at high risk of losing control over their gambling.
The report also revealed that as many as 80% of high schoolers have gambled for money in the past year. Even more alarming, the share of high schoolers who gamble excessively is double that of adults. The consequences of even casual youth gambling are serious. Gambling is illegal for minors in most states, and problem gambling leads to financial loss, lying, tense relationships, and even physical danger if they are unable to pay their debts.
Why are young people gambling?
Today the gambling industry delivers a constant exposure to the pleasures of gambling. From advertisements to pop culture, gambling has become a normalized part of life—and the consequences are serious.
Advertisements to gamble give young people the false impression that gambling is fun, or is an easy way to make money. Gambling industry advertising will fail to communicate the real risks involved with gambling. As a result, youth and young adults can quickly become addicted to gambling, accumulating debt, and even influencing their peers to gamble without realizing the long-term negative effects of developing this dangerous habit.
Another reason young people are particularly susceptible to problem gambling is that schools as well as their parents don’t educate them about the dangers of gambling and the risks of developing an addiction. Youth and young adults do not have fully developed brains until their mid-20s for males and a little earlier for females, especially the decision-making prefrontal cortex. Young people lack the skills and awareness needed to control their gambling. In fact, the Nebraska Problem Gambling Assistance program’s own clients report that their parents were second only to peers as the primary reason they started gambling in the first place.
By being aware of the prevalence and heightened risk of youth and young adult gambling, proactive steps can be shared to help them avoid starting a habit they may struggle to stop for years.
How can you tell if someone may be developing a gambling habit?
You may notice a few of these signs:
Borrowing money from friends and family. Seen frequently asking for money may be a sign they are struggling to fund their gambling habit.
Unexplained debt or large amounts of cash. Sudden purchases or an obsession with debt.
An extreme interest in sports scores and stats. Sports betting companies are increasingly targeting young men. Developing an intense interest in sports scores and stats, especially if they are watching new sports or teams, may be an early sign of a serious problem.
Moody or anxious behavior. Observed experiencing mood swings, anxiety, or depression.
Excessive time spent on online sports betting sites. Generally, online sports gambling is illegal in most states, and illegal in Nebraska. When Nebraska casinos set up their sports betting rooms, gamblers over the age of 21 can wager on sports inside the casino walls, the only place Nebraskans of legal age can wager on sports. Online sports betting sites push viewers to bet repeatedly, quickly and with more money, fast-tracking the unwitting to an early gambling problem.
Recognizing youth gambling early provides an opportunity to help stop the harm before it starts.
If you know a youth or young adult who is gambling, the Nebraska Problem Gambling Assistance Program (NPGAP) can help.
When you call or text the NPGAP, our Helpline Specialist Justin Antons (MA, LIMHP, LADC, CDGC) will work with you to find the resources and proactive support needs to stop gambling. Our services are free to Nebraskans, and every conversation is confidential.
If someone you care about isn’t gambling yet, start the conversation. The sooner you help that person understand the financial, legal, and mental risks associated with gambling, the more prepared they'll be to avoid gambling’s perils.